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March 26, 2011

US Bureau of Prisons director Harley Lappin announces retirement

As detailed in this BOP press release, "Director Harley G. Lappin has decided to retire from the Bureau of Prisons effective May 7, 2011." Here is more from the release:

During his eight years as director of the Bureau of Prisons, Mr. Lappin has played an important role in supporting the Department of Justice efforts to manage federal prisons that are safe and secure and provide prisoners with a range of programs to enable them to develop the skills needed for reentry into society.

Additionally, he has supported the department’s initiatives involving immigration, drug and weapons prosecutions, and the nation’s war on terror. Despite significant budget challenges during Director Lappin’s tenure, the bureau has expanded and improved program offerings for inmates that enhance public safety.  He championed the Inmate Skills Development Initiative, which substantially enhanced the bureau’s efforts to effectively prepare inmates for a successful, crime-free return to the community at the completion of their sentences.

It has never been clear to me how much independent policy-making authority is in the hands of the BOP director.  Even this short press release suggests a BOP director can play an important policy role, but more as an administrative supporter of policy choices made initially by the US Justice Department.   The recent important testimony by Director Lappin before the US Sentencing Commission concerning new prisoner release proposals (discussed here) also suggests that a BOP director is necessarily required to be more follower than leader on key federal criminal justice policy issues.

That said, a number of existing statutory provisions and administrative realities ensure that the BOP has a tangible impact on many aspects of federal sentencing and corrections law and practice — on issues ranging from drug treatment programming to application of compassionate release mechanisms.  This reality, in turn, ensures that Director Lappin's replacement will play an important role in the future of federal criminal justice policy and practice.

March 26, 2011 at 11:07 AM | Permalink


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In many ways, policy is an echo machine.

See Corrections Inc. by John Biewen.

"The nation's swelling inmate population has turned imprisonment into a $50 billion-a-year industry. Those who've prospered along the way include corporations, prison guard unions, and police agencies. American RadioWorks correspondent John Biewen examines how some of those with vested interests help to shape who gets locked up and for how long."

Posted by: George | Mar 26, 2011 11:32:14 AM

The point of this post is that the lawyer makes policy, not the technical professional with training and experience. The dumbass, know nothing, rent seeking lawyer at DOJ must be held accountable for all the consequences of his ignorance, incompetence, and lack of care. So all lawsuits for prison rape should name in respondeat superior the hiding DOJ official that loves criminals and wants the rate to rise. Because lawyer employment increases with the crime rate, the claims should subject this incompetent to exemplary damages.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Mar 26, 2011 4:16:21 PM

"American RadioWorks correspondent John Biewen examines how some of those with vested interests help to shape who gets locked up and for how long."

In more than 25 years working on criminal matters in the Department of Justice, some in Main Justice and some in the USAO, plus four years as a political appointee, not once did I make a decsion based on, or even remotely influenced by, what BOP said or wanted, nor on any input from corporations or prison or police unions. Indeed, for that entire time, I never HEARD FROM any of those entities.

The idea that who goes to prison is decided in some back room by sinister forces is complete tripe. It's decided by who gets caught with a few bricks of cocaine in the trunk of his car, or who's peddling videos of an eight year-old getting raped, or who's shipping weapons to al Qaeda.

It's not the sinister forces. It's the evidence.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Mar 26, 2011 5:06:10 PM

Bill: The post is not about how people end up in prison. It is about what happens to them after getting there. George's comment is off the subject. It is less about the BOP or DOJ. George's comment is really more about the Congress, which is influenced by special interests competing against each other.

I acknowledge one great lawyer achievement. By their guidelines and truth in sentencing rules, the lawyer dropped crime 40% across the board. Now the lawyer on the Supreme Court is backing up because of lawyer unemployment. I hope the crime rate does not go up to that of the 1980's and 1970's. This time young criminals may not increase the crime rate, being too fat, too video addicted, and too busy in the full time Roman Orgy lifestyle of today's criminal.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Mar 26, 2011 6:46:40 PM

My husband, a federal prisoner, asked me to post this reply: It is quite clear that the Director of the BOP has a direct and tangible influence on the quality of the daily lives of federal prisoners. One of the most important places is at the top of the Administrative Remedy Program. Although the Director likely never reviews these BOP Form BP-11s directly, as the highest level of appeal, before the filing of a federal lawsuit, the Director sets the tone of the office and guides the handling of the replies, which are determined at BOP HQ in the office of the chief counsel. The results of these administrative appeals greatly affect things from discipline to program participation. Additionally, the BOP is given significant leeway in interpreting laws and regulations that apply to prisoners. From basic things such as what mail an inmate is allowed to get (see the "Ensign Amendment" and the BOP implementation of such), to how many good time days inmates get (see last year's Supreme Court decision on whether inmates should get 45 days per year served or sentenced), to which inmates are allowed to use the TRULINCS e-mail system (see BOP Policy Statement barring entire classes of inmates) and even to what inmates eat (through the implementation of the national menu), each and every day a federal inmate's life is changed by decisions made in that office.

Posted by: Fixnrlaws | Mar 26, 2011 10:04:16 PM

Harley G. Lappin has provided visionary leadership for the Bureau of Prisons in a number of ways. He led the agency through the post 9/11 budget woes, which led to cost saving efforts such as closing four independent prison camps, discontinuing intensive confinement program that had proven to be no more effective than other camps, creating centralized designations, sentence computation, and classification process, implementing medical classification system (modifying how medical services are provided by identifying institutional care levels based on availability of resources and designating inmates to those matching their specific medical needs)and consolidating two training sites. Before Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans, the Director supported transporting non-bureau inmates in the region to secure Bureau facilities.

Having been a displaced staff member during a facility closure, I greatly appreciate Director Lappin's support during that difficult time.

Director Lappin will be greatly missed!

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